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Conflict Resolution

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“I’m here to apologize.”

Jack very carefully didn’t look up from the paper he was very carefully not reading. “Glory be.”

“I’m serious,” David said. He fairly radiated earnestness, shining in all directions, from the gold of his hair to the gleam of his freshly-polished shoes. “I didn’t know the seat at the banquet was yours. I didn’t mean to...”

He trailed off. Jack let him, and then let the silence stretch another five seconds, awkwardness hanging heavy as an albatross around David’s neck. It was a petty revenge, unworthy of the eldest prince, but Jack indulged himself. If nobody treated him like the crown heir, he saw little reason to start acting like one. When David literally started to fidget, he spoke.

“Doesn’t matter.” The titles in the paper were simultaneously screaming about the earlier faux pas with the royal treasury, the explosion of the old peace treaty negotiations, the re-convening for the new peace treaty negotiations, and Silas’s un-patriotic decision to start handing out national resources to the enemy. The editor was probably mourning the fact he had only one front page. “It’s quite clearly your seat now.”

“I don’t want it,” David said. He said it with such conviction Jack almost believed him for a second. “I was following orders; I thought they’d prepared a contingency, an extra—”

“Rule number one of royal life,” Jack said cheerfully. “There are no extras. There’s no second chance, no strategic failsafe, nothing. We operate in a constant state of emergency here.” He bared his teeth, almost smiling. “Can’t you tell?”

David clearly didn’t know what else to say, and stood before him doggedly, just the two of them in Jack’s private study—as if he needed a private study—looking miserable and stubborn. Abstractly, Jack wondered whether this visit had been set up by Michelle. She cared about him, sort of, and probably wanted her future scratching-post to win the family’s favor or something. On the other hand, she couldn’t possibly be so misguided as to send a potential boyfriend to see Jack all alone, not if she ever wanted to sleep with the guy afterwards. Especially not if her boy had such a pair of pretty blue eyes on him, and oh, that ass.

Wrong train of thought. “You know what,” Jack said, because David clearly wasn’t going away anytime soon and his constant shoe-scuffing was wearing a hole in Jack’s immaculate wall-to-wall carpeting. “Answer me one question.”

David raised hopeful eyes at him, for all the world like an adorable, scruffy orphan boy about to be offered a meal, and oh my god, Jack’s mind groaned privately, he’s Shiloh’s new Oliver Twist.

“Yes?” David asked.

Jack said, “If you’d known, would you have done anything different?”

The look on David’s face was priceless. A moment passed, then another, and Jack—who had known the answer before he ever asked—felt a private sense of vindication. His irrational dislike of Shiloh’s newest golden boy was more than just jealousy or misplaced lust: the guy really was a complete bastard. He’d throw Jack to the dogs in a minute; had already done so, in fact, by ’accidentally’ appointing himself as a potential replacement. You didn’t sit in the scion’s chair without declaring yourself a scion: these were the unspoken rules. Except the way he acted, you’d think David was too good for the court’s rules. And the way Silas acted, you’d think that was really the case.

It was David who finally broke the silence. “The king had ordered me, I couldn’t—”

“Quite.” Jack very pointedly snapped his paper upright and resumed the pretence of reading. “I understand, of course. Very unfortunate, not your fault. My father had told you, et cetera. Good day, David.”

In royal circles, it was the clearest possible dismissal one could issue. It was positively frigid with etiquette. But apparently David Shepherd, peacemaker extraordinaire, was above such trifling concepts as well.

“Wait,” David blurted, and Jack raised an eyebrow, adopting the perfect expression of calculated disbelief. It meant: ’Did you really just say what I think you did?’ He’d learned it from his mother, and rumor had it inexperienced housemaids burst to tears when faced with it for the first time.

Heroic David Shepherd was, of course, unfazed. “Let me make it up to you. Please.” His jaw clenched in a dashing show of masculine determination. “I’m really sorry. Anything you want, seriously.”

Oh god, Jack’s mind interjected, unhelpfully. These sort of things happened in porn movies, or soap operas, or really awful romance novels. He didn’t want to think what that said about his life at the moment. And he really didn’t want to think about the one fantasy he’d had the day after David came to Shiloh, where he’d crawled up to Jack on all fours and begged to do exactly that: whatever Jack wanted.

He’d entertained the notion because David was sort of hot, and he’d been a new face, and his father would have disapproved. Nothing could have prepared him for this. Who knew, apparently Reverend Samuels had some competition when it came to prophetic abilities. At least Jack was useful for something in court, even if it was just auguring unlikely booty calls.

Too bitter, Jack, he thought. Entirely too bitter. But even as the words crossed his mind David was standing there, looking sincere and fresh-scrubbed and so damn exploitable. He really did mean it, Jack realized. He’d literally do anything. Because he knew it was important to Michelle, or he wanted to impress Silas by playing well with the prince; it didn’t matter. Maybe it was just because David Shepherd was one of those rare, unfortunate freaks of nature: an actual man of his word.

It would be a degenerate, reprehensible display of power abuse, indicative of complete moral bankruptcy and little to no shame.

Jack knew he was going to do it. Moral bankruptcy, so what? Even if, by some bizarre chance, this got out, it wasn’t as if he had a reputation to uphold or anything.

“Hm,” he said, thoughtfully, as though still weighing the matter over. David watched him, a tried man staring at the judge before the verdict. It was a nice look on him: anxiety made him noble, more handsome, with his steadfast gaze and firm mouth turned down at the corners. The perfect lips for cocksucking, Jack noted clinically, then tried to pretend he wasn’t the biggest scumbag in Gilboa.

“All right.” As if there’d ever been any doubt. “Let’s see what you’re made of, Shepherd.”

David perked up like a foxhound with a scent, so goddamn eager to please it made Jack feel a little disgusted. And more than a little aroused. “Yes?”

“Come here.” He lowered the paper, looking David straight in the eye; a silent dare. After a moment of hesitation, David stepped forward, three swift strides across Jack’s carpet to stand before his couch, an arm’s breadth away. Still a respectable distance—that wouldn’t do.

“Closer.” David looked confused, but shuffled nearer, until his legs were framed by Jack’s knees, open in a way which would’ve been slutty if he weren’t royalty. Jack had been slumming around since he was sixteen and had never once been called a whore, or a faggot, or anything except ’Your Highness’ and ’sir’. He wondered what David would call him once he realized what was going on. He hoped it wouldn’t be an honorific.

“Jack?” David was staring down at him, head tilted slightly to the side, questioning. Jack closed his eyes. Of course—nothing but personal treatment from the good old country boy. This was a level of intimacy he wasn’t sure he was comfortable with. It didn’t help that he actually knew David by name; he had to, after the whole dashing-rescue-of-his-life fiasco. David was seven times more significant to him than he was to Michelle, maybe more—and god, but the things Jack would give to trade in his debt for her fleeting, superficial attraction.

Wrong train of thought, again. It was time to reassert control.

“Get on your knees.”

David stared at him, uncomprehending. Jack stared back coolly, fingers loose in the sheaves of the news pages.

“What are you—?”

“I think the position speaks for itself,” Jack interrupted. He waited a beat, patiently, then: “Well?”

“I, I don’t,” David floundered, face and ears burning red, gesturing helplessly. He averted his eyes to the carpet, not meeting Jack’s gaze. “You don’t seriously mean—”

He faltered backwards, a small half-step away from the couch. Jack wasted no time; he opened his newspaper up again and spread it wide, blocking David out, and resumed his reading without a word.

David froze where he stood. Jack could practically feel his gaze burning through the pages of tiny print, staring, wide with disbelief—it was such a predictable reaction that he didn’t need to look up for confirmation. Instead, he forced his breathing to slow down, exhaling through his nose, long and steady. Even pulse, even hands. It was a politician’s trick: never let them see you scared, or tense, or uncertain. People jumped on the first sign of weakness like sharks smelling blood. Wait it out, keep calm, and the other side will break first. First one to break loses. Those were the rules.

When David said, “Jack, please,” voice cracking on the second word, Jack thought he’d won. He kept the paper up, hiding his face, knees very pointedly open. Businesslike. It was never good to get sentimental about your conquests. His father had taught him that.

But David, as ever, was working by different rules. “Jack,” he begged again. “Look at me.” And this wasn’t in the plan, not by a long shot—the loser was supposed to stay down, not talk back, not even to plead mercy. Jack tilted the paper downwards, just a bit; enough to peer at David over the top of it with imperious disdain.

“What,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

“I just,” David paused, wet his lips nervously. He looked pale. “This is what you want?”

“It’s all you’ve got to offer,” Jack pointed out. “Unless you’ve been hiding a few aces up your sleeve. Gotten hold of any first-rate state secrets lately, David?”

Resounding silence. He continued: “You gave me your word. Anything I want. Well, I’ve made my offer; take it or leave it. Unless you’re a liar as well as a sycophant?” That blow struck home, he saw; David’s mouth visibly tightened and his face paled even further. Jack allowed himself a moment of petty satisfaction.

“Trust me,” he said, smiling thinly. “Being left out of the country’s most important peace treaty in history is a lot more humiliating than getting on your knees and sucking cock. I would know.”

He could pinpoint the exact moment David made up his mind. It was a number of small things: the flaring of his nostrils, the incremental straightening of his spine; steeling himself, a typical soldier before a charge. He was so painfully easy to read. Then David bowed his head, lashes long and fair against the curve of his cheek, and went down on both knees before Jack, kneeling in the space between his spread thighs.

“I’ve, um,” he started, then swallowed thickly. “I’ve never done this before.”

“You’re the boy prodigy,” Jack said, and was faintly proud his voice remained level. It figured David had never experimented before, and the thought of being his first was hot. Jack had always loved being a trendsetter. “I’m sure you’ll figure something out. We’re all given to understand that you’re a very fast learner.”

When David reached up tentative hands for the zipper, hands just barely trembling, Jack had to resist the urge to spread his thighs as wide as possible. He put aside the paper, thin pages rustling, and stared down at David with what he hoped was an expression of cool scrutiny and not blind lust.

Come on, he thought urgently, and David did, fumbling a bit with the button and then slipping a hand in, fingers groping blindly. Jack wore silk boxers when he bothered wearing anything at all, and David’s hand through the fabric was warm, a little sweaty. The silk clung to Jack’s skin, conforming to the length of his cock, so that David grasped him easily, fingertips bunching up the folds and smoothing them against the head.

David’s face was bright red all the way up to his ears as he tugged down Jack’s boxers and freed him, careful of metal zipper teeth. His fingernails were trimmed neat and short, exactly right for a respectable military officer, and the pads were heavily calloused. Probably from mucking stables or something, Jack thought derisively, before David brushed a large thumb across his slit and made him hiss, nearly biting his tongue in surprise.

“Uh, sorry,” David mumbled, glancing up at Jack through thick blond lashes, embarrassed.

“Less talk, more blowjob,” Jack said roughly, because shit, David was looking up at him like that while kneeling at his feet, mouth open and pretty, and his every breath was blowing warm air on Jack’s dick. This must be what it felt like to be king.

David hesitated for just a second, then leaned forward and gingerly closed his mouth around the head of Jack’s cock, tongue curling up instinctively to taste. He made a small face—the expression of anyone sucking cock for the first time and discovering what it tasted like—but didn’t withdraw. Instead, he circled the base of Jack’s cock with one hand, the other gripping the edge of the couch for balance, and began sucking, throat working in tiny swallows.

Jack dug his fingers into the plush leather upholstery of the couch in order to resist doing something rash, like fisting them in David’s hair or the neat collar of his dress shirt. Instead he let out a long, slow breath, willing a modicum of control. David’s lips were a perfect bow, stretched tight around Jack’s cock, moving up and down, smeared with Jack’s pre-cum. He was breathing through his nose, more or less, and as Jack watched his eyes fluttered shut, brows furrowing slightly in concentration.

“No,” Jack said, and David’s eyes immediately flew open again. “Why don’t you look up at me, David.”

David’s breath hitched like a stuck trigger lock, throat constricting and causing Jack to press a fist into the armrest. He swallowed, or tried to, around the cock in his mouth, and if it hadn’t been for Jack’s position he probably would’ve missed the way David’s thighs tightened against each other almost instinctively.

He didn’t say anything, just buried his face in Jack’s crotch and opened his mouth and took it all in, cheeks hollowing experimentally. His eyes zoned in on Jack’s, staring at him like a sniper fixing on a target—total focus—brows furrowed and his cheekbones sharp, sloping into concaves leading to his mouth. Shadows pooled beneath his cheekbones and under his nose, cool blue on the sun-warm tan of his skin, and Jack couldn’t help thinking he was the complete center of attention of a minor sun deity: something god-touched, made to be adored.

His hips bucked at the thought, just a fraction, and David made a small noise in the back of his throat as his jaw was pushed open wider. Jack hadn’t meant to move, but it felt so good, David’s mouth hot and wet and his tongue tracing all over Jack’s cock, and when Jack let his lips part David reacted, opening his mouth wider, as if in reciprocation, and just—fuck, yes.

Jack moaned, indulgent and low; David didn’t even bat an eyelash, drinking up the sound, his own throat stretched taut and collared by the dark blue of his uniform. He seemed to invite Jack further in, leaning hard against the couch, his nose rubbing the fine material of Jack’s trousers, jaw pressed against the leather—like he genuinely wanted Jack’s cock, fingers curled possessively at its base.

And then Jack realized: he did. David was no longer clinging to obligation, he was actually aroused, eyes dark and lips a slick red in the light, skin flushed. It was inlaid in the very way he moved, the way he met Jack on the upstroke, making tiny noises at the back of his throat every time Jack pressed against the roof of his mouth. This was an unexpected turn of events, but more than that, it felt filthy, David with his neat hair and his shy smile, now panting recklessly through his nose and swallowing around Jack’s cock, saliva on his lips and fingers, smeared across the corners of his mouth.

David’s hand on the couch slipped down, almost falling, and he began touching himself, at first just brushing his fingers, then grinding the heel of his palm against his erection, hips moving in time to his throat. His whole body was curved towards Jack’s, spine a perfect inward arch that travelled up and up and ended in David’s bare neck.

Yes,” Jack panted, hips rising off the couch, fucking David’s mouth. The words came unbidden: “Touch yourself.”

And David did; he moaned, long and unrestrained, like he’d been waiting to hear that order, and clumsily undid his trousers with his eyes never leaving Jack’s. Then he had a hand inside his pants—light blue cotton, for fuck’s sake, David—and was jerking himself off, thumb rubbing under the head just as he sucked hard on Jack, eyes wide with sensation, sending tremors right up Jack’s spine.

Turned out he had good enough hand-mouth coordination, and after a bit of fumbling he got a rhythm down, stroking himself in time to Jack’s thrusts, body tense and curved tight as a steel trap. Jack gouged furrows in the armrests, thighs sprawled wide open, heat pooling in his gut, unable to stop staring at David’s jerking hips, the hand between his legs. And David watched Jack staring; saw his eyes flick down, and his hand faltered, strokes growing faster and more erratic. His breath came uneven, hitching around Jack’s cock, but they were both too far gone to care.

Jack grit out a last command as he thrust into David’s mouth, more panting than talking. “Come on,” he said, and David followed orders as though they’d come straight from the king’s throne, making a sound low in his throat around Jack’s cock, shuddering full-bodied. His eyes squeezed shut as he climaxed; he just pressed against the couch, rutting into his hand, golden-boy façade cracking as he choked on Jack’s cock and let out what sounded like an expletive: fuck or shit or please god yes. He stopped breathing for a moment then, but he still didn’t let Jack out of his mouth—and that was just, with David kneeling before him, perfectly obedient like some fucking servant—Jack followed a second later, muffling any noise by nearly biting his tongue clean through.

David had enough sense to keep his jaw unhinged, even if he gagged and had to turn away after a moment, spitting out semen in shuddering gasps on the wall-to-wall carpeting. A few desperate moments of dry-heaving later, he wiped a shaking hand across his mouth, smearing seed and shiny-wet saliva across his cheek, then settled back on his haunches, gasping through his mouth, breaths shallow, as though his throat were scraped raw.

There was silence, for a couple of minutes.

“So.” David was the first to speak; Jack already knew that the guy couldn’t stomach awkward silences. Which was fortunate, because Jack was a master at them. “Is that—I mean, are you—are we—?”

“Relax, Shepherd,” Jack said, more or less composed, considering he was still a bit breathless. “You did fine. Hadn’t expected that much from a first-timer.” Judging from David’s small frown, he’d phrased the sentence perfectly: toeing the fine line between offense and compliment. “You’re officially forgiven. I must say, I hadn’t expected this level of devotion from you. The rest of my family would no doubt be surprised to hear to just what lengths you’d go to mend broken bridges.”

He let that sink in for a moment, and smiled mirthlessly. “Now get out of my office.”

After David left—still mussed and wrinkled, with a worried glance at the carpet stains—Jack let himself reflect. Truly, he was the biggest scumbag in Gilboa, ever. On the other hand, it wasn’t as though he had a reason not to be. David had saved his life, but Jack still wasn’t sure he’d gotten the better part of the deal, not when the payback seemed to be his future as king. Whether David was aware of it or not, the contest between them had begun—and Jack knew, long before the king had ordered Captain Shepherd to sit at his right hand, that the conclusion was foregone.

So why not? Jack might not be a winner, but he was still his father’s son, and he took his victories where he could. By God, he’d win this battle, even if he was doomed to lose the war.